Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Cops & Crooks

Well, I've suffered a terribly sad setback in my movie viewing routine. The theatre near my house closed just a couple days before Christmas. It wasn't a multiplex, which is one of the reasons it closed, and one of the reasons I loved it. They didn't have ten movies to choose from, but they had an enormous screen and awesome popcorn and although quite often they'd never get in the major release I wanted to see, they sometimes got in little quirky flicks that were just as enjoyable. Now, I'm pretty much relegated to DVDs. Of course, it sucks even worse for the owners of the theatre, but they'd struggled for a long time to keep up with the multiplex across town and finally succumbed.

So, speaking of struggling, lesser known, but just as charming entities, I figured I'd devote this post to a couple of my favorite actors who might make you go who? when I mention their names, but I'm willing to bet that you'll recognize their faces. And I hope that in 2009 they keep getting quality work and maybe even breakout roles. I mean, it's not impossible. My man Bogart struggled with bit parts and second or third fiddle roles for twenty years before establishing himself as a viable lead. And these guys, just like the big stars I've been blogging about here, I'll watch them in pretty much anything.

The first one hit my radar about a decade ago when a cop show called Third Watch came on the air. When this show premiered, it was an embarrassment of hot guys. All the chicks in my office watched this show, and for several of us, the hottest of the formidable bunch was Bobby Cannavale. In fact, we didn't even call the show by its title. We just called it Hot Bobby's Show.

When it started, it was a decent show with potential, but rapidly declined, and when they made the horrible error in judgment of killing off Cannavale's character, I wouldn't be surprised if they lost a major chunk of viewers. They lost me, and it went off the air, I think, shortly after.

Since then, I've always been on the lookout for Hot Bobby. For a time, it looked like he was destined for his big break at any second as he popped up in a plethora of places. He was funky spunk guy on SATC, he was Will's impossibly cute boyfriend on Will & Grace. But in 2003, he landed a juicy role in the Sundance sweetheart hit, The Station Agent as a happy-go-lucky guy who through sheer force of his friendliness insinuates himself into the lives of a couple of lonely people. It's a charming movie, elevated even more by the performance of the always lovely and captivating (and also underrated) Patricia Clarkson and a steady performance by Peter Dinklage.

But although the film won over indie audiences everywhere, for some reason, it still didn't push Cannavale into the limelight. I don't get it. He's absolutely gorgeous. He's got a natural style and has an easy confidence that suits him for comedy and isn't overwrought in dramatic roles. He keeps working, thankfully. And a lot of the pictures and roles he picks are really juicy even though they're not leads, but they're also often in indies. Can't someone with a good major release pick this guy up for a good role in wide distribution? Favreau? Someone? So far, The Station Agent remains the pinnacle of his career.

Now, speaking of niche roles in quirky shows, that brings me to Dean Winters. 2008 was kind to Dean as he reprised his role as Liz Lemmon's foil boyfriend Dennis Duffy on 30 Rock and he also held down a plum role in a couple eps of Life on Mars. It's not hard to shine on 30 Rock given the material, but it is tough to steal the spotlight from Alec or Tina. But Dean consistently did it with his uber-obnoxious, sluggish thinking and loud-snorting unlovable/lovable beeper salesman. And on Life on Mars, he had to make us love him before he could show his truly villainous self.

But, good as these roles were, they still can't touch what was indisputably a role of lifetime. The time was 1997. The place was HBO. This was the pre-Sopranos era, when HBO had built a credible-if-spotty list of comedies, but had yet to unveil a killer drama. In walked Tom Fontana, already highly pedigreed in very serious, quality episodic television. Suddenly, the inmates were running the asylum, or, more accurately, the correctional facility. And that facility was the brutal, sometimes wrenching, often shocking series Oz. In its first year, Oz was Emmy-worthy quality television. As it aged, it evolved (or devolved) into a lurid soap opera, which, of course, was even more addictive.

Girls and gays loved it for its full frontal nudity and steamy shower scenes, mixed with what quite possibly remains the most blatant and highest quantity of "red-shirt" characters to ever appear. Yeah, the red-shirts came and went, but the core cast was, among "character" actors and second-fiddle indie stars, legendary. The indomitable JK Simmons was the Nazi Schillinger. Before they got Lost, Harold Perrineau was do-gooder, Greek chorus narrator Augustus, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje was animalistic perfection as Adebisi. Before she served crown roast to Tony Soprano, Edie Falco helped keep control as guard Diane. One of my other favorite hotties, Kirk Acevedo showed skin as disturbed Alvarez. Chris Meloni was a psycho-supreme who just loved too much. Even Rita Moreno did time at Oz.

But out of all the inmates who came, went, or got executed, one master manipulator rose the ranks and became the Iago of the incarcerated. That was Ryan O'Reily, and he was played with squinty-eyed, sexy machination by Dean Winters. I don't see how he possibly could ever top this role, because I'm not sure a better one could be written. Winters as O'Reily was a perfect marriage of bullshit Irish charm, dangerous and sultry survival instinct, and a gritty and quiet, if still smug, satisfaction at the success of all his most nasty plans realized. You know those villains you just have to root for? That was him.

Another reason I like him? He's half dago and speaks fluent Italian. Also?

And that's all I'm gonna say about that.

I don't know if he'll ever escape Oz and O'Reily, but I do hope he still keeps getting juicy roles, because he's just got that spark that pulls you onto his side when you watch him. And no one's been as good at the squint since Clint Eastwood. So I hope 2009 lands him some movies, even if I won't be able to go see them.

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